Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

11P Future Orientation and Risk Behavior Among Adolescents In Conflict with the Law In the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Friday, January 13, 2012
Independence F - I (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Kathryne B. Brewer, MSW, Doctoral Student, Columbia University, New York, NY
Michael J. MacKenzie, PhD, Assistant Professor, Columbia University, New York, NY
Robin E. Gearing, PhD, Assistant Professor, Columbia University, New York, NY
Craig S. Schwalbe, PhD, Assistant Professor, Columbia University, New York, NY
Rawan W. Ibrahim, PhD, Project Coordinator, Columbia University, Amman, Jordan
Zeena Al-Amad, BA, Research Assistant, Columbia University, Amman, Jordan
Background and Purpose: Research on adolescent development indicates that future orientation is a significant protective factor against negative outcomes such as substance use and other high-risk behaviors, as well as a source of resilience. Relatively little is known, however, about the future orientation and expectations of adolescents in the Middle East, particularly those residing in institutional settings. The current study examines future expectations as well as the relationship between mental health and future orientation among a Jordanian sample of adolescents in conflict with the law.

Methods: Under the guidance of the Jordanian Ministry of Social Development and UNICEF, a systematic needs assessment was conducted with 199 adolescents living in three juvenile detention facilities from the Community-Family Integration Team (C-FIT) project. Data was collected through instruments during face-to-face interviews, including information on future expectations, behavioral, and emotional problems. The study measured future expectations along four dimensions: schooling, job, family, and socio-economic well-being, as well as through measures on expected and feared Possible Selves. Behavioral and emotional problems were measured using the Youth Self Report (YSR) form of the CBCL, a widely used standardized measure of internalizing and externalizing (i.e., aggressive, hyperactivity, and noncompliant) behaviors.

Results: Analyses indicate that 43% of the sample views their future with generally negative expectations. This is particularly true with regard to expectations around schooling. Although 79% report that they would like to graduate high school and 63% report a desire for post-secondary education, 54% doubt that they finish high school and only 34% of the sample believed that would actually attend vocational training or college. Further investigation using linear regression analyses examined the relationship between future expectations and behavioral and emotional well-being. This analysis indicates that lower future expectations is a significant predictor of both higher rule-breaking behaviors (b = -.49; t(184) = -2.35; p = 0.020; R2 = 0.03), and higher social problems (b = -.32; t(184) = -2.48; p = 0.014; R2 = 0.04). Connections between risk behaviors and expected and feared Possible Selves, and the sophistication of strategies for pursuing or avoiding those future selves are also explored.

Conclusions and Implications: This study adds to a growing body of international research around the developmental risks associated with institutionalized responses to youth in conflict with the law. Findings underscore the severity of the situation for youth in custody as well as the impact that hopelessness has on rule breaking and risk-taking behavior. This, in turn, risks amplifying their difficulty as they transition to adulthood in a society where stigma and shame around criminal contact may further restrict opportunities that are already limited by the effects of poverty and high youth unemployment. The clinical, policy, and research implications of study results for adolescents will be explored.